Conducting sales calls requires walking a thin tightrope between getting to know clients on a personal level, ingratiating them to yourself and your company, whilst also weaving in the core business offer that you’re trying to introduce. These two elements can feel like water and oil at times but an approach of one without the other is almost doomed to fail.
Initially one might expect that business decisions are all the result of cold, hard logic and appeals to reason but I think that’s less true than most companies would care to admit – even to themselves. Behind every decision is a person, or team of people, who simply aren’t capable of pure, disinterested logic. Putting on a nicely tailored jacket and some shiny shoes might make us feel smarter, more mentally sharp, more discerning with our business acumen, but in many ways we’re still little more than monkeys in suits. This sobering reality is a crucial realisation for anyone in sales (or dealing with people at all, for that matter). In truth, we are a torrent of emotion and instinct, fuelled by biological processes over which we have vanishingly little control, desperately wrangled by the moderator of our prefrontal cortex.
Jonathan Heidt, renowned psychologist and professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, described this in a wonderful way in his books The Happiness Hypothesis (2006) and The Righteous Mind (2012). He uses the metaphor of the rider and the elephant. In brief, the rider sits atop the elephant and appears to be in control – he holds the reins, after all. The rider looks off into the distance and plots a course for the two to travel, seeing potential pitfalls ahead and planning a rational course of action. However, the rational rider is at the mercy of the sheer brute force of the elephant – our rider cannot impose its order without the consent of the elephant supporting it. The elephant is our impulsive, emotional, irrational side, the relic of our evolutionary past but the means by which we can support our rider. The lower regions of our brain control not just our emotions but our breathing and other autonomic processes, too, so we can hardly afford to lose it! Heidt uses this metaphor to outline the asymmetry of power inside our brains. Our logical rider can only guide the way if the elephant is willing. Put another way, logic is a luxury only afforded when our emotions allow it.
In the world of business, this has a very obvious impact. It’s beyond futile to appeal to your client’s rider if their elephant does not trust you.
A Six-Step Guide to Delivering Impactful Presentations:
Since I don’t get to meet face-to-face with the people I call (in my Business Development role), every interaction is begun with a handicap. The majority of human communication is nonverbal and most of the ways we assess trustworthiness and make judgements of character is through assessing these nonverbal cues. Indeed, a large portion of blame for the inflammatory nature of online debates can be laid at the feet of anonymous communication. We can even see this when dealing with loved ones, when a short, succinct text message can so easily be misinterpreted as aggressive.
Despite these disadvantages, how can we connect on a human level with potential clients? By using the most human instrument in our arsenal. The voice.
My training in the world of opera taught me many things but one of the more unexpected ones was that you can tell when someone is smiling through the sound of their voice. Often a tutor would tell their student in a performance class to express their song physically, though their face and their posture, all to effect a change on the quality of sound produced. The acoustics of the mouth and the effect of different facial expressions on it, while interesting, is perhaps too much to cover here. However, the main conclusion I would take from this training is simply to smile down the telephone like you would if you were face to face with the person on the line. Genuinely smile though, not force yourself to smile – a forced smile would have the opposite effect!
Approach each call like you’re trying to make a friend, to brighten somebody’s otherwise dull workday. It was surprising to me, how many people sounded relieved to have somebody to talk to who would patiently listen to them and do their best to improve whatever situation they and their company was in.
A mellifluence to the voice can be a helpful addition, too, as a more melodic cadence to one’s speech can often put others at ease. A very useful thing to employ when calling people unbidden but not something that can easily be taught in a blog post…
In brief, the rider is interested in the words you say, but the elephant is interested in how you say them and why. So, in order to have the business discussion with the rider, pay extra attention to that which the elephant can judge you on. A blind elephant is a distrustful one, so use your voice to win it over. The warmth of your tone and vocabulary, the happiness to hear how they are and the determination to be of help.
Rather than focusing on social media, this article will look at social networks in more general terms, referring to the idea of a network of individuals that interact with each other. Social network analysis is an approach within sociology that is used to investigate these social networks, specifically looking at the individuals within a network, the ties between the individuals and how these ties affect the network as a whole. Social network analysis is based on graph theory and the idea that individuals are affected by the behaviours of other individuals and the outcomes of these behaviours.
Social network analysis allows us to be able to form a graph, called a ‘sociogram’, of a social network and obtain numerical values to determine the importance of individuals within a network. A measure of importance that is commonly used is called ‘centrality’ and it can show an individual’s influence on others in the network. Centrality has been said to be one of the most intuitive concepts within social network analysis – it allows us to quantify the contribution each individual has to the network and therefore the importance of that individual to the network. There are multiple ways of measuring centrality depending on what you are looking to find. The simplest would be degree centrality which is based solely on how many ties an individual has or their ‘popularity’ in the network. However, there are other measures which take into account proximity, brokerage and prestige of the ties.
This approach could be very useful within b2b research specifically within the analysis of a decision-making unit. In b2b research, we often look at the decision-making unit in an organisation in an attempt to gain an insight into the decision-making process. The current methods of analysing decision-making units tend to be over simplified and do not always take into account all the ways in which an individual can be influenced. For instance, simply asking an individual who the key decision makers are produces a very hierarchical view with the responses always being the top levels within an organisation. Social network analysis can provide a much deeper understanding of the many ways an individual can be influenced. If we were to ask someone to describe in more detail the people they ask opinions from or speak to regularly over lunch, this can often give an indication of who is influencing their decisions.
Increasing the Impact of Social Media & Content Marketing in B2B Markets:
The methods used within social network analysis can give a level of understanding which more traditional methods cannot match. Being able to quantify the level of influence each individual has within a network gives us the ability to target the top three influencers within that network and study them further to engage with their wants and needs. Social network analysis allows us to understand the real drivers within the network rather than just the ‘typical’ influencers. Within a network, a person can be overlooked for many reasons such as having a lower status or not having direct control over decisions; however, if this person has lots of relations in the network and provides a small amount of influence over many decisions they might actually have the largest levels of influence that otherwise would’ve been missed.
The recent acquisition of B2B International by gyro, a creative B2B agency, has given us, as a business, some new ideas and concepts to think about. I was first introduced to the idea of a business being ‘humanly relevant’ during a talk with gyro CEO Christoph Becker. He emphasised the fact that gyro pride themselves not only on the creative talent but also on their ability to make people feel. As we begin to align ourselves with their vision, it got me thinking about the importance of human emotion in research and how we often undervalue it, particularly in the B2B sector.
While thinking about what Christoph had said in his talk, I stumbled upon ‘Only human’, a study published in 2014 by gyro. The study set out to explore human emotion in the business decision making process. Of the 720 senior-level executives who were surveyed in the study, 62% said it is often necessary to rely on gut feelings and soft factors while 61% agreed that when making decisions, human insights must precede hard analytics1.
A quick google search of the term ‘business decision making’ leads to a plethora of rigid frameworks claiming to show the most efficient approach. The term is most frequently summarised to mean ‘the process of organising relevant information and defining alternatives to make the most satisfying outcome’. Making a business decision is predominantly described to be objective and efficient. What aren’t considered, however, in these frameworks, are the factors mentioned in gyro’s study. Factors that can’t be easily quantified. These business decisions are being made by people. People with feelings and emotions.
Working in research, a lot of our time is spent analysing data to gain insight. It is incredibly easy for us to forget that behind the data there are people. Decision makers and stakeholders are the people who will be acting on their problems, many of the decisions that they have to make are considered to be a risk. Having feelings of trust can ease that risk and make the whole process simpler and more satisfying. Although it would certainly make our job as researchers easier, the business decision making process is not quite as simple as following a 7-step framework. Christoph Becker suggests “While hard facts inform our decisions, we are ultimately influenced by emotion and won over through our hearts, not data.”
What Lies Beyond The Numbers? 3 Insights Into Your Respondent’s Inconsistent Behaviour:
Another example of how human emotions are shifting the B2B landscape is the way in which B2B Customers are, now more than ever, seeking more than just rational benefits such as competitive pricing or good product quality, but emotional benefits in their experience as a customer. B2B Brands putting greater emphasis on training their employees in effective customer service suggests that they are proactively changing the way they think about the emotional needs of customers. B2B customers want to feel valued and that they have a voice. Having a strong partnership is important for both brands and customers, and to build a strong partnership, it is imperative that businesses maintain effective human connections with their customers.
The same goes for the way that we, as a business, approach our relationships with clients. In the digital age, we are inclined to see our clients as users or e-mail addresses. The impact of this, is that it’s easy for us to go days without any real human contact, everything can be conveniently managed through our computer screens.
As we see often in our reports, there seems to be a trend for greater emphasis on the ‘beginning’ of the customer journey, and potentially not as much focus on the ‘during’ or the ‘after-care’. Can the same be said for our service as researchers? It is vital that we not only focus on winning in business but also maintaining human contact with them at every step of the journey. Ensuring that we build strong emotional connections with our clients and continue to maintain these connections even after a project has ended can be extremely beneficial in business development and client loyalty.
In our personal lives we choose to surround ourselves with people that create positive feelings, so why would it be different in our business relationships. Finding someone who not only ‘does the job’ but does it whilst being friendly, empathetic and trustworthy, is becoming increasingly important in B2B relationships, and is something we should bear in mind when we approach our clients.
Putting the Customer at the Heart of the Business:
We are frequently reminded about ‘storytelling’ in presentations and how we can better engage people by taking them on an emotional journey. This should not just apply to formal presentations, but also in our everyday contact with our clients. We should engage with them on a personal level, it’s important that we speak in a relatable and approachable manner. Not being afraid to show personality and emotion can be an effective way to build stronger, more long-term partnerships.
Ultimately, it’s clear that emotions are driving business decisions. Having a ‘gut feeling’ about something can really make the difference. Our own approach to business needs to reflect the advice that we are giving in our research presentations. For a brand to build trust and loyalty, it must provide a superior customer experience. Part of giving this superior customer experience is building a strong partnership based on communication and transparency. In the digital age, we must continue to consciously think about interacting with people on a human level.
B2B International’s Conor Wilcock is taking to the stage at next month’s Quirk’s Event in London. His workshop, “To Hell with Facts! We Need Stories! – The Power of Storytelling in Research”, looks at how to tell stories which will unlock insights and drive action.
Participants in the workshop will learn how to conduct story-based analysis of data, why stories help research findings stick in the mind, and the five key qualities every storytelling researcher needs.
Conor’s workshop will take place at 10:00-10:30 on Wednesday 13th February in Room 3.
As firms from around the globe seek to internationalise their operations, they are increasingly having to enter business relationships with customers and companies which belong to different culture groups. As such, marketing managers must be wary of the cultural differences that are present in these new markets if they desire to make a success of these business relationships. While research into the drivers of b2b relationships is thorough and wide-reaching, the impact that national culture may have on the b2b relationship is one which has not been as explored in such detail.
Culture As An Independent Variable
The first real attempt to understand culture as a set of variables was by the Dutch social psychologist and former IBM employee, Geert Hofstede. Hofstede defined national culture as ‘the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another’. This ‘programming’ influences the thoughts and values of individuals throughout all aspects of their life, including the business decisions they make. The result of Hofstede’s attempts to turn these intangible aspects of culture into both tangible and measurable variables was his Cultural Dimensions Framework. The below table gives a brief explanation of the four original cultural dimensions that formed the basis for much of the research. This blog post will not attempt to explain the intricacies, merits and demerits of Hofstede’s work but will instead focus on two of the most influential dimensions, Individualism/Collectivism (IDV) and Power Distance (PDI).
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Individualism / Collectivism (IDV)
Let us first look at the Individualist-Collectivist cultural dimension and its impact upon trust, a vital aspect of any b2b relationship. In Individualistic cultural groups, members feel independent and people’s self-image revolves around “I” and the immediate family. In Collectivist societies, however, there is a greater degree of interdependence between members of society and members often refer to “We” and the wider social group such as an extended family or cultural group.
Research has found that in highly Individualistic societies such as the US, UK and Germany, individuals are much more trusting of external agents and will more willingly enter a business relationship than those from highly Collectivist societies, such as China, Japan and South Korea. Western companies may therefore find it more difficult to form an initial business relationship with companies which are based in collectivist societies. However, while initially collectivists may be unwilling to trust external agents, overtime a much stronger and enduring relationship may develop and indeed be stronger within these societies. Indeed, our own experience of carrying out research in Japan, a collectivist society with a score of 46 (out of 100 on the IDV scale), has shown that there is a higher propensity for long term (by Western standards) b2b relationships.
Power Distance Index (PDI)
Power Distance is another dimension that has been closely examined by researchers and marketing managers alike since it’s formulation. This dimension can be described as the extent to which less powerful members of society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.
In cultures with high PDI, people are likely to conform to hierarchical structures and accept their place within them, whereas in low PDI societies individuals try to distribute power more equally. For example, research has shown that in societies with high PDI, charitable behaviours are less commonplace than in low PDI societies; the explanation being that the former are much more accepting of inequalities within the world and as such see no need to attempt to change it.
Comparing Apples to Pommes: Understanding and Accounting for Cultural Bias in Global B2B Research:
The impact of PDI upon a business relationship can be quite profound, and individuals from high PDI societies such as Mexico may find the frankness of their low PDI counterparts (e.g. Anglo-Americans) during meetings strange and somewhat shocking. Another example of the ramifications of PDI on b2b relationships are the customer service expectations in a buyer-supplier relationship. In a b2b relationship between two parties at opposite ends of the PDI spectrum, such as Malaysia with a score of 100 and the USA with a score of 40, the American party may find the Malaysian customer extremely demanding in terms of the level of service that is expected. To the American supplier it may seem that this boils down to a lack of respect for the service level agreement or previous work supplied. For the Malaysian customer however, this behaviour is due to who holds the power, status, wealth and knowledge within the relationship, and if they feel their supplier is the ‘subordinate’ in the relationship, they will expect a very high level of service and lean on them for as much as they deem necessary.
The Power Distance – Individualism Dynamic
What is most interesting however is when we look at the IDV and PDI dimensions in tandem with each other and examine the impact that they both have on a societies’ ‘collective programming’. Where a culture has a low IDV and a high PDI score, such as in China, we have seen the development of Guanxi, which can be described as the relationships individuals cultivate with other individuals within the ‘in group’ and the social networks that develop as a result.
As business relationships within China are very much socially embedded, they are therefore influenced by Guanxi and individuals within it rely on their social network and interpersonal ties they have built up. Accordingly, individual members of a business may perform favours for their counterparts elsewhere and as such strengthen the relationship of the two businesses themselves. Those within the Guanxi network may be privy to information outsiders are not, e.g. upcoming strategic moves or details of government contracts and as such may be more likely to win business with this information.
To an outsider looking in, especially one from a Western country, this practice contrasts sharply with the business system we espouse and could be interpreted as insider trading or even bribery. However, it can be argued that this critique stems from the fact that individuals from Western societies view the world through the lens of their cultural norms and practices, and fail to take into account the differences between their own and Chinese culture.
While I have only scratched the surface of culture’s consequences on b2b relationships, one final point to stress is the importance of understanding not just the cultural norms of potential customers you interact with, but also how your own cultural biases may or may not influence your own way of thinking.
Buttery, E. A. & Leung, T. K. P., 1998. The difference between Chinese and Western negotiations. European Journal of Marketing, 32(3/4).
Hofstede, G., 1980. Culture’s Consequences. s.l.:Sage Publications.
Huff, L. & Kelley, L., 2005. Is collectivism a liability? The impact of culture on organizational trust and customer orientation: a seven-nation study. Journal of Business Research, 58(1).
The 2019 World B2B Marketing Chief Congress will take place in Shanghai from the 16th to 18th January. Over 400 marketing executives across 50 industries will come together to discuss the latest marketing innovations and the convergence of b2b and b2c marketing.
Among this year’s speakers is our very own Head of Asia Pacific, Stephanie Teow. Stephanie’s talk on “Why Storytelling Is The Most Valuable Market Research Skill” will discuss the empirical and neurological relevance of storytelling in market research and explain how storytelling can be systematically incorporated into data analysis.
Stephanie will take to the stage on Day 2 (January 17th) at 09:45 local time. To learn more about the event and to see the full agenda and speaker list, visit the event website.
I was on a call with a client the other day and they posed a question that I have heard frequently whilst working at B2B International…
“We have gathered lots of data and insights from the research but how do I go about driving action to improve the customer experience?”
It is a question I am always pleased to hear; far better to learn that there is some positive action being taken because of the research insights, beyond just a box-ticking exercise! Our clients have various roles in their businesses and have different amounts of time to work on improving the customer experience. Whilst we can work with specialists whose role is entirely focused on improving the customer experience, this is not always the case and we have many clients who wear multiple hats and who are particularly keen to understand the answer to the important question above. Below I highlight three ways in which I have seen businesses effectively drive action.
A Thank You
We start with a very simple action and one which we would advocate as part of any piece of customer research. We have asked for people’s time and feedback and as such, we should formally thank them for their participation in the research. I have seen clients provide a thank you in various different forms; through an email, via a telephone call and through a visit from an account manager. The way in which you typically deal with your customers and resources generally dictate the approach used but each has its own merit.
I have seen great ‘thank you’ approaches across all these avenues but the most effective ones are the ones that go further than a thank you. We have a great opportunity to let customers know that we are going to do something off the back of the research and covering off the topics “What you told us” and “What we intend to do” is crucial during these communications. We obviously need to be careful in what we tell customers so we do not set ourselves up for a fall but we need to be seen to be making changes for the future good.
Internal Action Workshops
I have always been a great believer in the attitude that customer experience is everyone’s role and not just a department. We therefore need to be making an effort to make cultural changes as a business, as opposed to putting the burden on one department, as this is the only way you are truly going to improve the experience for customers. Internal action workshops are a great way of doing this and can be highly effective in driving action.
One of the key elements that determine the success of these internal action workshops is making sure we have the right people attend. It is critical that we get members of the senior leadership team to attend to make sure we have buy in from the top. Second to that is making sure we have a subset of employees who cover all the different business functions. Remember this is a cultural change we are trying to make so it is important that all parts of the business are involved.
So we have the right people at the workshop, the next step is to get them to see and believe in the data and the insights from the research. An obvious way of doing this is to debrief the research through the form of a presentation. We should also aim to bring the research to life in as many ways as we can. It is important to include customer case studies as what better way to believe in the data than letting the internal teams hear the feedback directly from customers themselves through audio and video clips. We should also be making the most of the room that we are in by putting up key quotes and themes on the wall to help the findings sink in.
Top Tip – Another way to get customers engaged in the findings from the research is to give them some exercises to do during the workshop. Two potential exercises are as follows:
Be The Customer – get those at the workshop to fill in a short questionnaire either during or before the session. We should be asking the attendees a subset of the questions that we asked customers but making sure we get the answers in the eyes of the customers.
Be The Researcher – choose some of the research questions and let those at the workshop do some analysis themselves picking out the key delight factors and pain points that customers are currently noticing. This is particularly powerful before a presentation of the findings and is an excellent way to build trust and understanding of the research outputs.
Everybody at the workshop should now have a good understanding of the data and the insights from the research. Now that everybody is engaged and on-board we can now start to think about the actions that we would like to put in place to make the experience better for customers in the future. It is important to choose the right exercises in order to get the desired action.
We suggest running several different exercises in the workshops to determine the current customer experience, think about ways in which we can do things differently and to ultimately come up with some actions plans that can be put in place going forward. We would suggest choosing a small number of actions to implement as we know that resource is often limited in terms of both time and budgets. The actions put in place should be ones that will have a high impact on the customer experience.
To ensure we get action we suggest creating commitment sheets outlining the change that will be implemented, the next steps and the barriers. The final thing to determine is which department will own the commitment and which member of the senior leadership team will sponsor it whilst also giving a timeframe for the implementation of the improvement.
The number of commitments will depend on the amount of resource available but experience tells us that businesses that come up with more than three or four commitments at any given time are significantly less likely to actually go through and implement the changes.
Top Tip –Make the workshop memorable by getting all attendees to outline the changes that they are going to make to improve the customer experience and get them to sign a pledge as well.
Internal Dissemination Of Findings
The final suggested action would be to communicate and disseminate the findings of the research back internally to the wider employees. We have already talked about this being a cultural shift and it is important that the message gets across the whole of the business.
As employees we are frequently receiving different forms of communications from the business so it is important that the things we share stand out. We should therefore be imaginative in what we share and it should be more than just a standard email so think about creating videos, webinars and infographics to get the message across. If you have more time and budget you could consider developing customer persons, quizzes or even customer months to build customer experience traction.
So next time you conduct a piece of customer research, always go beyond just using it as a box ticking exercise and drive some action in your business for the future good of your customers.
We’re excited to announce that B2B Customer Experience, written by Nick and Paul Hague, has been nominated for the Business Book of the Year award!
The Business Book Awards recognise authors who have shared their industry or market knowledge, experience and expertise in published book form. The nominations and winners will be determined by a panel of experts from business, writing and publishing. The Awards ceremony will be held on the 26th March in London.
B2B Customer Experience, published by Kogan Page, draws on over 20 years’ experience of b2b market research to provide clear advice on how to plan, map, structure, implement and control an effective customer experience.
Find out more about the book and how to get your hands on one by visiting our dedicated book page.
To learn more about the Business Books Awards and to see who we’re up against, click here or on the link below.
Here at B2B International, we’re always thinking of the latest innovations and emerging ‘megatrends’ shaping our clients’ industries and markets.
So, for every month in 2019 we decided to delve a little deeper into each of these trends and produce a mini-guide looking at what it is, how big it will be and the opportunity it presents for b2b companies.
Our complete ‘Guide to the Future’ is also available as a handy desk calendar (see above) – click here for details on how to get your hands on one.
This month’s topic is the Internet of Things. Enjoy!
What is it?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network or ecosystem of devices connected via the internet, allowing them to communicate with each other by sending and receiving data. This not only includes internet-enabled devices, but also non-internet-enabled devices. These devices are then able to receive and execute different commands from another connected device, effectively making them ‘smart’.
For example, smart home technology allows users to use their smartphones to switch lights on and off, adjust the central heating and even see who’s at the door when they’re not at home. Cars are also getting smarter, with manufacturers such as Tesla able to fix problems through software updates rather than mass recalls.
How big will it be?
The IoT market is expected to generate revenue of close to US$10 trillion with over 75 billion devices used worldwide by 2025 (Source: Statista). It is predicted to be the most influential megatrend of the century. Our research suggests that the IoT will be one of the biggest topics on the agenda for 70% of b2b marketing and market research professionals over the next 5 years (Source: B2B International B2B Marketing Survey 2018).
What’s the opportunity?
The integration between the physical world and computers will create endless opportunities for B2B companies. Perhaps one of the biggest lies in the improvement of the customer experience.
The Internet of Things allows companies to collect vast amounts of data from sensors that can be used to provide accurate, real-time information (i.e. in customer order & delivery tracking), optimise product usage, predict maintenance needs and identify customer needs.
For example, manufacturers can use data gathered through sensors to remotely monitor product performance and predict when maintenance may be needed. Performing short bursts of preventative maintenance earlier on in the lifecycle means products will spend less time in repairs and reduce downtime for customers.
Product usage data can also be used to identify potential improvements and push configuration changes and software updates directly to the product over the internet, providing peace-of-mind to the customer by ensuring it is always up-to-date and running at optimal levels.
Another example is logistics companies who can improve the customer experience by monitoring equipment and fleet vehicles across the entire supply chain to provide accurate and up-to-date information on exactly where an order is and when it will be delivered.
The Internet of Things has developed rapidly over the last few years. As it continues to cement itself in everyday life, b2b brands are starting to wake up to the opportunity and explore how the technology could impact their business strategies and business models.